Small business owners need a good mix of independence, self-confidence, and determination to succeed. But these traits are also impediments that can lead to business struggles. At some point, you’re going to need guidance from an experienced professional if you want to avoid failure.
Mentorships are crucial ways that entrepreneurs can build a greater sense of self-awareness. Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or a seasoned professional, a mentor can help you navigate pitfalls.
In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 70% of mentored small businesses survive more than five years, double the time compared to small businesses without mentors. In a 2014 UPS study, about 88% of business owners said that having a mentor is an invaluable business asset.
Here are five tips for keeping and building relationships with mentors:
1. Identify and Take Initiative to Contact Mentors
If you’ve identified the ideal mentor, don’t worry about whether they’re too busy. Many mentors will be stretched for time, but you’ll likely want a mentor who’s successful with a generally full schedule to help you grow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and prepare a straightforward pitch. If you need help, you don’t have much to lose.
Pro tip: A great way to identify mentors is to attend networking events. If you have a hard time finding a connection, try connecting with someone through LinkedIn or the Small Business Development Centers which are independent organizations that offer expertise, resources, and advice.
2. Ask the Straightforward Questions
If you want to appeal to a mentor, put yourself in the right light. Introduce who you are and what your goals are for success. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want from the mentor; being straightforward can help you save time and help you both plan out your commitments.
Pro tip: If you’re contacting another small business owner, chances are they’ll be busy with many different projects. Many busy entrepreneurs like order.
Keep it simple and short. In your introductory email, get to the point. Tell the person why you’ve identified them specifically, so explicit request for time and the desired outcome will likely be greeted with a positive response than a vague request for coffee. Once you get comfortable with them, ask plenty of questions.
3. Choose a mentor with a different perspective
Part of the reason to secure a mentorship is to grow and learn. You won’t evolve if you ignore your flaws or stay ignorant about different aspects within the business sector. Choose a mentor that offers a different way to look at business. Chances are that you’re ignorant about some type of business insight. Find a mentor that will challenge your everyday thoughts or operations and show you different ways to approach problems...or a solution you never knew existed.
Pro tip: It’s good decision to balance your outlook and actions with a bit of pragmatism and empathy. In fact, many business leaders need empathy to understand various perspectives in business negotiations. If you don’t agree with every business practice or subject then at least you’ll help understand another’s perspective. A mix of empathy, know how, and a steadfast mindset can help your personal brand and help you make decisions.
4. Consider Growing your Mentor Network
Many professionals suggest making as many connections as possible within your industry. Experts like Carolyn Everson, the global head of marketing solutions at Facebook, suggest that a board of advisors will help guide you in different areas of your career.
Pro tip: Not everyone is an expert on every single aspect of business. Chances are your mentors are still learning some aspects of business too. It’s necessary to build relationships with many mentors to learn from different backgrounds and experiences to help shape your business goals.
Relationships are built upon mutual respect and giving. A mentorship relationship is no different. Try to make the experience positive for your new mentor. Perhaps, you could ask them how you could offer to their business venture in return for experience or maybe you could help promote their business in some way. You might want to ask your mentor what they may like in return from your meeting.
Pro tip: Many mentors may take the charitable approach and say they only wish to help someone succeed. But don’t assume that’s always the case. There can be some way to help support their business in return and create a positive career experience for you both. In addition, the best mentorships grow organically. So stay committed to your interactions and offering support over time.
Gaining a mentor early in your career can be a highly valuable way to define which direction to pursue. Some people may seek out mentorships formally rather than organically, but take time to identify some peers and colleagues that can offer guidance. Either they may act as your mentors or they can give you a good reference. And in the small business community, it may not be too hard to find.